Animals could talk if they knew how

If the animals could talk ...

Documentation in 4 parts, episode 1–4

  • 1. Out of lust and love

    Stress in rhinos? Mental Illnesses In Dogs? Jealous Jackdaws? Boredom in Mice? Or even mourning for geese? For many scientists, the question of how animals feel has something disreputable about it. At least it is considered dubious. Because feelings cannot be measured. And animals, unlike us humans, cannot describe how they feel. If they could talk, we would know more. In the last few years, however, the window to the emotional world of animals has opened a crack. Above all, refined measurement methods for stress hormones allow new insights into the inner workings of pets and wild animals.

    A ganter has lost its goose - what's going on inside it? At the Konrad Lorenz Institute in Grünau, Austria, the psychological stress on gray geese is determined - from their droppings. Rhinos in the all-weather zoo in Münster are "asked" about their preferred way of feeding. A saliva sample and the hormones it contains provide information.

    Feelings did not first come into the world with Homo Sapiens. In all mammals, the “feeling center” in the brain, the so-called limbic system, is amazingly similar to ours - a circumstance that allows animals, for example, to be treated with human psychotropic drugs.

    In this way, the Dalmatian "Cody" was cured of a pathetic obsessional neurosis. Pigs respond to human tranquilizers, and their moods can be influenced by alcohol, like ours. There are growing signs that we are more like animals on the emotional level than many would like to be. Jealousy, envy, joy, dejection, or affection are not a human monopoly. The consequence of this: Appropriate treatment should also include the psychological needs of the animals.

    Animals cannot talk about what they experience and suffer, but they can show us what they want: At a station in the Bahamas, wild dolphins have the choice between the free Atlantic and life in human society. Your decision is in favor of the people. Until a swarm of attractive female dolphins appears ... (Text: arte)

  • 2. Think - calculate - dream

    Can dogs count? It looks like this: Willi takes a seat on the podium and solves every arithmetic problem from the audience. 5 + 5 = ?? Without hesitation, Willi barks ten times. The applause is deserved - but not because Willi is the Einstein among dogs, but because he has mastered a trick that would be difficult even for us. If you still want to know your dog's IQ, you can set one of the test tasks developed by the behavioral biologist Immanuel Birmelin. Four races are fighting over the laurel. Of course, it is unfair to measure the intelligence of animals by our abstract thinking ability. A cat playing chess doesn't look good, but what if we should catch a mouse in the dark? In their own habitat, animals show common sense: squirrels create a “map in their head” which they can use to find the nuts that they have buried. This was the result of an original test on the campus of the famous University of Berkeley. The country pig Edeltraud imprints the geometry of its feed hiding places. And even bees trick their beekeeper when he tries to get their pollen.

    The "intelligence beasts" in the animal kingdom include primarily monkeys, marine mammals and gray parrots. They come up with intellectual achievements that shake our feelings of superiority: for example, African gray parrot Alex knows how many green wooden cubes are among a hodgepodge of colorful objects. And he not only knows, he also says it - loud and clear. A brain teaser competition, the so-called T-tube test, between children, chimpanzees and capuchin monkeys produces a surprising result. In an intelligence test with abstract symbols, the sea lion Tommy is likely to beat most viewers if he differentiates between image and mirror image at lightning speed.

    Our common pets are not great thinkers, but at least they develop ideas and images in their heads - even at night when they are sleeping. Dogs and cats, like all mammals, have vivid dreams; typical eye movements during sleep (REM) and the associated brain waveforms prove it. But does a pig really dream of acorns? And a millet chicken, as Sigmund Freud writes in his “Interpretation of Dreams”? In fact, there are many cases in which animals allow us to look into their dream world: Even in dreams, the cat does not let mousing. (Text: arte)

  • 3. A different kind of culture

    A new breakfast culture arose in England in the 1930s: cream stealing. Blue tits in London had discovered that cream can be fetched from under the aluminum lids of milk bottles that have been delivered. The new custom spread like wildfire and became an established tradition among British titmice. To this day it is controversial to what extent the birds have copied the opening of the aluminum foil from each other, but in any case they have sparked a discussion about tradition and culture in animals: Can animals develop new habits and skills and pass them on from generation to generation? how is it typical for the human cultural being?

    There is, for example, a new trend among common ravens: their predilection for lamb. The ravens are seen more and more frequently in flocks of sheep. Has the new food source "got around"? What is certain is that there are also discoverers and inventors in the animal kingdom.

    Tubau belongs to a group of Javanese monkeys in an outdoor enclosure at the University of Zurich. He is a kind of Galileo of the apes: he studies and researches what gets in his way, even experiments with water. One day, Tubau invented “apple fishing” - a brilliant technique for fetching apples from outside the enclosure. Will the worthwhile invention spread? How quickly will it become common knowledge among Javanese? The renowned primatologist Hans Kummer investigated the case from the start - with a result that was also unexpected for him.

    In animals, knowledge and skills are not passed on through lessons and lessons - the boys have to take care of it themselves. But many are masters at imitation. Small sea otters, for example, learn from their mother what to eat, where to find it and how to cook it. Getting rid of the abalone underwater requires the right tools and technical skills. Sea otter children who have not copied it in the first twelve months will never learn it again. What little Hans doesn't learn ...

    A pine forest near Jerusalem is the scene of a special cultural revolution. Common house rats live here, but they have revolutionized their way of life: They live like squirrels in the trees and feed almost exclusively on pine cones. The biologist Ran Aisner was initially confronted with a riddle, because house rats - he believed he had found out - cannot open pine cones at all; the technology is too complicated. But then he discovered the four-week crash course that every newborn rat has to go through - if it is to survive in the pine forest.

    As is well known, culture goes beyond eating and drinking - even with animals. Finches in San Francisco have a different dialect in each borough. Orangutan lady Nonja paints with a brush and paints - or is she just spilling? Cottage gardener birds in Irian Jaya create beautiful gardens; everyone maintains their own individual style and prefers their own colors. Humpback whales compose chants that are up to 20 minutes long, and each year one of the singers invents a new variation - with complicated rhythms and tone sequences over five octaves that are adopted by the other humpback whales. So is culture not a privilege for humans? (Text: arte)

  • 4. Mirror affairs

    A bedroom mirror in the lion enclosure. The big cats react differently to the newcomer: violent attacks or a friendly greeting - depending on their temperament. Sooner or later everyone is looking for the unknown behind the mirror. Nobody thinks that he sees himself.

    The self-knowledge when looking in the mirror not only overwhelms lions and pumas, monkeys also fail - as do human children in the first year and a half of their lives. A classic test - a stain of color secretly painted on - proves it: an animal that recognizes itself in the mirror wipes off the stain. Only great apes such as chimpanzees or orangutans pass the color test. To recognize one's own likeness obviously requires a certain level of development of the cerebrum. Opinions differ at the mirror. Even the largest apes, the gorillas, seemed to fail the mirror test so far. In the all-weather zoo in Münster, however, the camera team was able to capture the fascinating moment when the silverback Makakou for the first time flashed the "That's me" recognition.

    If you recognize yourself in the mirror, you can look at yourself from the outside, as it were, through the eyes of another. This is a prerequisite for putting yourself in someone else's shoes; to make it clear what another sees, knows or thinks.

    And that is exactly what is surprisingly difficult - for a German shepherd, for example: If the owner puts a bucket on himself, he can no longer see anything - but the dog does not know that. The orangutan girl Inda in Washington National Park is completely different. Inda definitely knows that her teacher Rob Shumaker is blind as soon as his head is under a bucket. Then she directs him in the desired direction - or, on the spur of the moment, takes the bucket from him.

    Anyone who can empathize with someone else's point of view and thinking has all the prerequisites to be a good teacher. In fact, lessons are extremely rare in the animal kingdom. Even among chimpanzees. The dwarf chimpanzee Kanzi is an almost unbelievable exception. Kanzi grew up among people. He understands the language of his carers and can even talk to them on the phone. And if he tries to make the English vocabulary understandable to his sister, too, it becomes a magical lesson.

    Can animals deceive and lie? Here, too, great apes are the first candidates, because targeted deception maneuvers can hardly succeed without thinking about others. The renowned primate researcher Frans de Waal tries to deceive Natascha with the help of a seductive apple - with success: the chimpanzee skilfully deceives her boss. Even more ingenious: the annoyed mother chimpanzee Marilyn uses false warning shouts to calm her down.

    There seems to be a small, exclusive group among all living things: humans and great apes. You recognize yourself in the mirror. You have an I-consciousness. They can deceive, lie, and teach. But it could well be that we are too fixated on ourselves and our closest relatives. (Text: arte)


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